Hunted by Abir Mukherjee

Well known for his series of mysteries set in 1920s colonial India, Abir Mukherjee has produced his first contemporary standalone thriller. Hunted is a fascinating exploration of what people will do when they think they have no choice, that sense of desperation which makes them feel vulnerable. It’s also a critique of unethical political leaders who have forgotten that they are meant to represent the needs of everyone in their electoral districts. This is quite an exciting new venture and a big departure from the historical Wyndham and Banerjee books.

The United Kingdom and various places in the United States are the setting for Hunted. The choice of these two countries is quite intentional. Mukherjee mentions in his notes the divisive impact of Brexit in the UK along with the rise of populism which is starting to make democracy appear fragile. What happens to those who feel betrayed and forgotten by the people in power? Does this make them susceptible to manipulation and radicalisation?

It all starts with a bang. Yasmin and Jack are heading to a Starbucks in a Los Angeles mall. They plan to plant bombs by the radio station within the mall, but things don’t go according to plan. Mukherjee paints a vivid picture of the crime scene that will trigger all of your senses and you’ll feel like you are there in the midst of the nightmare as Yasmin’s suitcase explodes and kills 63 people.

Shreya Mistry is an FBI agent investigating the terrorist attack. It’s clear that she’s a bit of a rogue agent as she risks her life entering the structurally unstable building. Shreya goes in search of the mall security office to see if their cameras can provide information about the bombing. She flags Yasmin as the bomber and spots a potential lead. Her boldness pays off and the FBI are quickly able to identify the culprit by her fingerprints.

With Yasmin’s identity, they can track her movements and discover that she entered the country via the Portland airport nine weeks earlier. She was not alone. Yasmin travelled with Aliyah, another young British woman. Yusuf, a man with ties to a terrorist group picked them up at the airport. Given the number of people involved, more bombings are anticipated and the FBI is in a race against time which ramps the tension up. A great deal happens in the eight-day time span of the book.

The terrorists are living together in a remote house in Oregon. An American woman called Miriam is their leader – described as a soldier masquerading as a messiah. She recruited the men in the group for their military skills. In addition to Jack and Yusuf, there is Greg. He is a disillusioned vet with the skills to make explosives. We learn about the people in the terrorist group from his perspective.

Miriam lured Yasmin, Aliyah and an American woman called Rehana online. Mukherjee does a brilliant job in demonstrating why some people are vulnerable to terrorist groups as he shares the background of the characters. Miriam is able to manipulate the feelings of the team to get them to perform tasks related to her plans.

The third perspective in the thriller comes from Aliyah’s father, Sajid. He has joined forces with Greg’s mother, Carrie, to try and protect their children. Carrie is a force of nature. She actually travelled to the UK in order to convince Sajid to join her. They both feel responsible for their children’s involvement in the terrorist group. Out of all the things that happen in Hunted, these two parents suddenly becoming action heroes is the most unlikely.

Even if your instincts have you questioning the probability of this storyline, it’s worthwhile taking a leap of faith here. The scenes of the growing friendship between Sajid and Carrie strengthen the story. There are some touching moments between them and a strong underlying thread about racism. Carrie’s bravado and entitlement as a white woman never ceases to surprise Sajid. You will be cheering the two of them on.

Hunted is more than a thriller. The book will leave you with a better understanding of the frustration felt by individuals who believe they are treated differently because of their social class, skin colour or beliefs. Mukherjee offers some interesting insights into who people perceive as enemies and why. You’ll be thinking about this long after closing the covers. The author achieves just the right balance between building tension for an exciting thriller and social commentary.

To learn more about Abir Mukherjee, see previous Crime Fiction Lover reviews and an interview.

Harvill Secker

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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